Harden-Eulenburg affair

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Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, around 1905

The Harden-Eulenburg Affair , or Eulenburg Affair for short , was the controversy surrounding a series of court martial and five regular court cases for homosexual behavior and the defamation lawsuits brought against these allegations. Prominent members of the cabinet of Kaiser Wilhelm II were affected between 1907 and 1909. The affair is described as one of the greatest scandals of the German Empire .

Although they basically only revolved around the dispute between Philipp Fürst zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld and the journalist Maximilian Harden , the allegations and counter-allegations were sufficient for the affair to spread quickly and lead to the term " Liebenberger Kreis " being used, to describe a homoerotic circle around Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Article in Harden's magazine

On April 6, 1907, Maximilian Harden published an editorial in his magazine Die Zukunft with the headline "Wilhelm the Peaceful". In this leading article he took the view that, among other things, the Reich leadership could not enforce the line of their policy because the representatives of the country - including Wilhelm II in particular - had too often and too vehemently assured the other countries that they only had peaceful intentions have. Harden intensified his journalistic attacks when, shortly after the failure of the Algeciras Conference - which manifested the political isolation of the German Empire - he was at a private dinner party at Eulenburg's Liebenberg Castle, Wilhelm II, with the First Secretary of the French Embassy, ​​Count Raymond Lecomte , met and found them likeable.

On November 17, 1907, Harden accused the Liebenberger Kreis in a further article that the circle had a significant influence on German politics due to personal connections and was responsible for a number of failures in German foreign policy. Only recognizable to insider circles, Harden alluded to the homoerotic relationships that members of the Liebenberger Kreis maintained. These allusions were particularly clearly related to Kuno von Moltke . Harden accused Eulenburg, among other things, of being an "unhealthy late romantic" who had spiritualistic inclinations. However, behind these allegations directed at Eulenburg was the view that was widespread at the time that men tending towards homosexuality had effeminate personalities who were incapable of a decisive use of power. In the influential aristocratic circles at the court of Berlin, the hints were well understood and attracted a great deal of attention.

Bernhard von Bülow , at the time Chancellor of the Reich and had been friends with Eulenburg for many years, initially tried to prevent the scandal from spreading and insisted that the excitement over the revelations of Harden would subside. He was aware that an accusation of homosexuality against close friends of the emperor would discredit his own position and make the already difficult government business even more difficult for him.

It was not until the beginning of May 1907 that Kaiser Wilhelm II learned of the allegations from the Crown Prince. His demand for the suspension of those affected and a judicial clarification of the allegations sparked wide coverage in the press and thus the scandal.


The reasons that prompted editor and journalist Harden to write his article in the future were controversial. Some historians see Harden as an instrument of interest in Bismarck's political legacy , while others see Harden's article as an expression of a disapproval of German foreign policy, which he shared with the "gray eminence" Friedrich von Holstein . However, it must not have been Bismarck or Holstein who informed Harden and instrumentalized him. Harden also had good to very good contacts with Walther Rathenau , Albert Ballin , Max Warburg and other financiers with whom Wilhelm II also interacted. In his study of the affair published in 2010, the historian Peter Winzen takes the view that Chancellor von Bülow in particular was the one who provided Harden with information material and provided him with the necessary backing. On the other hand, there is a statement by the contemporary witness and later State Secretary in the Foreign Office, Richard von Kühlmann . In his memoirs , Kühlmann describes his last conversation with Holstein and sums it up: “When the first articles appeared later in Maximilian's Hardens 'Future' which initiated the immense Moltke-Eulenburg scandal, it was immediately clear to me after the above-mentioned conversation with Holstein that where to look for the intellectual author of the article. Harden's remarks coincided in part almost literally with what the then all-powerful privy councilor had said to me in the course of the last conversation. "

Wilhelm II had dismissed Bismarck in 1890, who had pursued a realpolitik of treaties and agreements. The anti-imperialist and England friend Eulenburg, who was promoted from a simple member of the diplomatic corps to ambassador, was one of the most important advisers to Wilhelm II and tried repeatedly to push him back onto a peaceful, England-friendly course. Like many, Bismarck also noticed that the peculiarity of the relationship between Wilhelm II and Eulenburg “does not belong on paper”; he saw the young emperor advised by backers whose policies he rejected. Bismarck had already taken a position, sometimes with indirect methods, against the liberal, parliamentary attitudes of the Empress Victoria , daughter of the British Queen Victoria and mother of Wilhelm II. Bismarck is said to have given Harden the information about the homoerotic Liebenberger Kreis over a bottle of wine, which had been a reconciliation gift from Wilhelm II .

Harden waited until 1902 before personally blackmailing Eulenburg into giving up the post of ambassador in Vienna ; otherwise he would publicly expose him. Eulenburg gave in, resigned for "health reasons" and initially withdrew from public life. After Eulenburg reappeared at the Algeciras Conference in 1906, Harden repeated his threat. Eulenburg responded by withdrawing to Switzerland.

A number of historians - including Wolfgang J. Mommsen - reject this interpretation of the events as too speculative. In Mommsen's view, Eulenburg's withdrawal from political life in 1902 was primarily due to the fact that marriage scandals in his closest relatives would have brought with them the danger that his homosexuality would also have been discussed. According to the moral concept of the time, this would have resulted in his social and political ostracism. After Mommsen's analysis Harden had arrived in 1906 to the conviction that the diplomatic strategy of national leadership in the first Moroccan crisis had failed mainly because Wilhelm II have not been willing. Under the influence of Liebenberger circle to a war against France to take risk. For Harden, homosexuality was merely a means of discrediting the camarilla surrounding the emperor.

On November 17, 1906, Harden published an article in which he made hints regarding the sexual relationship between Eulenburg and the emperor, and blamed the Liebenberger Kreis, which was allegedly built up by Eulenburg, for influencing the emperor and thus for Germany's foreign policy failures. Harden now had additional information from the extensive files of Holstein , with whom he had made peace that summer.

In addition, six officers committed suicide in 1906/1907 after being blackmailed. They tried to avoid the fate of 20 others who in previous years had been convicted by a court martial solely on the basis of their sexuality. For Harden, worse than these scandals was the fact that Eulenburg returned to Germany to receive the High Order of the Black Eagle .

Alleged homosexuality

On April 27, 1907 Eulenburg of Harden homosexuality publicly accused by Harden explained that the previously published caricature of harp player on Eulenburg and its "treasures" Kuno von Moltke allude. The following were also reported: Georg von Hülsen , director of the Royal Theater; von Stückradt, an adjutant to the Crown Prince; Prince Bernhard von Bülow .

Wilhelm II, who had already been upset about the proceedings against Major Johannes Graf zu Lynar and Lieutenant General Graf Wilhelm von Hohenau , the commander of the 1st Guards Cavalry Brigade - both relatives of the emperor - asked for a list of his confidants, whom one of the Accuse of homosexuality. This list was a greatly abbreviated version of the one that the Police Director Leopold von Meerscheidt-Hüllessem had made to convince the Kaiser of the absurdity of Section 175 of the Criminal Code . Wilhelm II asked the military men listed there, Johannes Graf zu Lynar, Hohenau and Moltke, to say goodbye to the army, and asked Eulenburg, also mentioned, to explain himself.

Moltke's lawyer filed a defamation lawsuit against Harden. Eulenburg protested against any guilt and reported himself to the public prosecutor responsible for him in accordance with Section 175 StGB. As expected, he had to stop the investigation in July 1907 for lack of evidence.

"The Eulenburg Affair", contemporary caricature by Carl Josef Pollak

Legal proceedings

Moltke against Harden (first case)

23-29 October 1907. Among the witnesses who were heard were Lili von Elbe , who was divorced from Moltke after nine years of marriage , the soldier Bollhardt and Magnus Hirschfeld . Frau von Elbe testified that Moltke had only fulfilled his marital duties for the first two nights, and reported on his very close friendship with Eulenburg. She could not testify to Eulenburg's homosexuality. Bollhard described champagne parties in Lynar's villa that Hohenau and Moltke would have attended. Hirschfeld, who was heard as a scientific expert, explained on the basis of his observations of Moltkes in the courtroom and the statements by Elbe that Moltke had a "homosexual disposition that was not conscious of himself and had a pronounced spiritual and ideal character", even if he had never lived it. Georg Merzbach appeared as a counter-expert in the proceedings . On October 29, the court found Moltke to be homosexual and Harden to be innocent.

However, the verdict was overturned due to procedural errors and the process had to be reopened.

Bülow against fire

Adolf Brand , founder of the first homosexual magazine Der Eigen , published a leaflet on which it could be read that Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow had been blackmailed because of his sexual predisposition and kissing with his private secretary Max Scheefer at a meeting that Eulenburg had organized be. Brand concluded that Bülow was now morally obliged to take public action against Section 175 of the Criminal Code. At the subsequent trial on November 6, 1907, Brand defended himself against the charge of defamation on the grounds that the designation as homosexual was not dishonorable and that he did not accuse Bülow of anything wrong. Eulenburg declared his noble friendship with Bülow in the process. But he also said that he had never had sexual relations with Bülow and repeated under oath that he had never violated Section 175 of the Criminal Code. Brand was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Moltke versus Harden (second case)

In December 1907 the trial between Moltke and Harden was repeated. Since Ms. von Elbe was no longer considered credible due to the diagnosis of classic hysteria and Hirschfeld withdrew his earlier statement, Harden was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to four months in prison.

Harden against Städele

Harden tried now to prove the homosexuality of Eulenburg. He persuaded Anton Städele , a colleague from Bavaria , to publish an article in which it was said that Harden had received hush money from Eulenburg. Harden then sued his accomplice in Munich for defamation . Even if it had little to do with the actual process, Georg Riedel and Jacob Ernst were also heard during the proceedings, who stated that they had had sexual relations with Eulenburg in their youth.

The conviction of Städele in April 1908 was expected and he received the penalty payment of 100 marks back from Harden. However, Eulenburg was charged with perjury and the trial opened on May 7, 1908.

The main witnesses in the perjury trial

Criminal proceedings against Eulenburg

After the first of 41 witnesses, including Jacob Ernst and ten others who claimed to have observed Eulenburg through a keyhole, had been heard, the trial was interrupted because Eulenburg was in poor health. He was repeatedly examined for his ability to negotiate. Until the end of the Empire in 1918, no verdict could be found. Eulenburg died in 1921 without the question of his homosexuality being resolved in court.

Moltke versus Harden

After some pressure, Harden was sentenced again in April 1909. He had to pay a fine of 600 marks and the accrued court costs of over 4,000 marks. Moltke, on the other hand, was rehabilitated against the public.


The Eulenburg affair is seen as an example of prejudice and hypocrisy used as a vehicle for political ends. Eulenburg's wife commented on the matter to Hirschfeld with the words: "You beat my husband and you mean the emperor."

Harden later said that while the affair was successful, it was also his biggest political mistake. As Harden had intended, Kaiser Wilhelm II turned away from the moderate circles stigmatized by the affair. As a result, the emperor turned to more military advisers. Like other observers, Harden later saw this as one of the reasons for the end of the second German Empire.

The expressionist playwright Hans Kaltneker quoted the affair in his mystical drama The Sister (1923).

Web links

Commons : Harden-Eulenburg affair  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  • Norman Domeier: The Eulenburg Scandal. A political cultural history of the empire. Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-593-39275-2 . ( Review )
  • Norman Domeier: Maximilian Harden , in: 1914–1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War (Eds.): By Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2016, doi: 10.15463 / ie1418. 10936 .
  • Hugo Friedländer : The insulting trial of the Berlin city commandant, Lieutenant General zD Count Kuno von Moltke against the publisher of the "future" Maximilian Harden. In: Hugo Friedländer: Interesting criminal processes of cultural-historical importance. Representation of strange criminal cases from the present and the recent past . Volume 11, Barsdorf, Berlin 1920, pp. 5–204 (online)
  • Maximilian Harden : heads. Volumes I and II in the Gutenberg-DE project ( archive version )
  • Maximilian Harden: Volume III (processes) in the Gutenberg-DE project
  • Karsten Hecht: The hardening processes. Criminal proceedings, the public and politics in the German Empire. Dissertation, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, 1997, OCLC 716614020 .
  • Hauke ​​Hirsinger: "The spiritual disintegration of Germany"? On the change in anti-Semitism in the wake of the Eulenburg scandal at the beginning of the 20th century. Dissertation, Bremen 2008 (online)
  • Peter Jungblut : Great guys. Eulenburg - A Wilhelmine affair . Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-935596-21-9 .
  • Martin Kohlrausch : The monarch in a scandal. The logic of the mass media and the transformation of the Wilhelmine monarchy . Berlin 2005.
  • John CG Röhl : Introduction, in: Philipp Eulenburg's political correspondence , Volume 1: From the foundation of the Reich to the New Course 1866-1891. Pp. 9-75. Boppard 1976.
  • James D. Steakley: The Emperor's Friends: The Eulenburg Affair in the Mirror of Contemporary Caricatures . Hamburg 2004, ISBN 3-935596-37-5 .
  • Peter Winzen : The end of imperial glory. The scandal processes surrounding the homosexual advisers of Wilhelm II. 1907–1909. Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2010, ISBN 978-3-412-20630-7 .

Individual evidence

  1. archive.org